Stephen Terry, The Hardwick, Abergavenny

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 8th November 2011
Stephen Terry is the Michelin starred head chef of the Hardwick, a restaurant with rooms in Abergavenny, south east Wales. The restaurant won a Bib Gourmand in the Michelin guide earlier this year. Stephen started off his career with Marco Pierre White at his first restaurant Harvey’s in Wandsworth Common, London. After this he went to Michel Roux Jr’s La Gavroche, where he was introduced to the classical French style that has become the foundation of his cooking philosophy. After this he was sous chef of Nick Nairn’s Braeval Old Mill in Stirling, Scotland. He received his Michelin star at age 25 when he opened The Canteen in Chelsea Harbour for his old mentor Marco and famous co-owner Michael Caine. Two years later, he moved to France where he worked near St Tropez at the one star Chateau Le Roches, followed by Paris’s two star L’arpege. After moving back to England and working at Coast in Mayfair, the latest Oliver Peyton restaurant, he purchased The Walnut Tree in 2001. It won a Michelin star the following year. He consulted for a number of restaurants and pubs before purchasing the Horse & Jockey, which, after some serious renovation, became The Hardwick in 2005.   Stephen Terry thank you very much for inviting me in, wonderful to come and see you here at The Hardwick. Perhaps  you can give us an overview of The Hardwick, how long you've been here, the number of covers, the food style, just a bit of a brief of the Hardwick? We purchased The Hardwick in November 2005 and it was an old country pub called The Horse and Jockey. It was very much in need of some tender loving care. What made you come to this area Stephen? The reason I came to this area because I was approached, when I was back at Coast for the second time with Oliver and I had a phone call from Franco Taruschio and he asked if I was interested in buying The Walnut Tree and in principle I was but the timing was all wrong because I'd just gone back to Coast, I'd bought a maisonette in Battersea for an arm and a leg, I was being paid quite a lot of money and I was quite excited about the prospect of going back to Coast and getting it back to where it was before, I left the first time. So the timing was all wrong for me and a year later, my first marriage had broken down, we were both just workaholics and  just had no time for each other and my first wife worked in television"¦ Sadly a trait of chefs that isn't it? Quite often yes sadly. We decided to sort of go our separate ways, we didn't have children I'd left Coast because they had to change it to the Mash concept which was a great concept but it wasn't what I wanted to do. Fair comment. So I went and worked just round the corner from Battersea Square where I was living and Martin Lamb and Vanessa at Ransomes Dock which was lovely, I was there for a month and then I thought I'd get out of town for a week and go and spend a week with Franco at The Walnut Tree, and the first thing he said to me, was "Do you still want to buy it?" and I'm like, "Yeah." I spoke to a good friend of mine Chris Corbyn just for some advice and he said he would help me out, because I'd no idea where I was going to get the money from or how to raise that sort of money. So it was the passion that excited you? Oh absolutely I'd always heard about it and always wanted to go there and this real romantic idea of what it would look like and it wasn't anything"¦I mean it is lovely, the first time I went Franco sort of recognised me and I'd done a little bit of press, a few bits in The Times or The Canteen, Franco said, "Oh I've been following your career," and he said, "I've got cuttings," and I thought oh right and he said, "Do you ever see yourself in the country?" I said, "Well yeah, I grew up in the country." I was going to say I thought you were a London lad . But my parents moved out when I was two and I went back when I was 18 but I never, ever saw myself staying in the city. I went there to learn and then I was always going to be getting out.  And to me it's always been a place to live. So did you fell in love with the area at that point? Not the area just the idea of a small country restaurant really. Chris helped me out and then Chris actually invested as well and came on board as a director and I approached a friend of mine at the time Francesco Mattioli who'd been the maitre d' for Neal Street for the Carluccio's but he'd also worked at the Canteen, Coast and Caprice, great pedigree. And that was that really and it took a while and that's what brought me to the area. I met my wife, she was a customer of the Walnut Tree so that was good and we've been married eight years now and three children. We opened the Hardwick on the 11th December 2005. You could have made a little TV show about the opening, it was just this crazy makeover. So how many covers can you do? We can now do 100 covers. What's the record? The record is Mother's Day this year and it was 240. Wow. That's from 12 til 5. Normally no a Saturday, the record on a Saturday night is 135, 136, that was Ryder Cup weekend but we did 120 on Friday for the food festival. The thing is it's all right, records are great, I mean I remember at both Coast and Canteen we were at least 300 to 320, 317 and that's big numbers. Yes it is at that level. Absolutely and that was with a star at the Canteen but we can comfortably do 100 covers and do it well, to the standards that we're cooking to. So how many in the team here? In a full team there's about"¦an ideal wish list for a full team would probably be about 12 chefs. We are seven days a week. And front of house? Front of house is my wife, who is here as much as possible with three young children, school time, out of school time, it's difficult but we've got two managers, we've got Laura and Daria, two full time barmen  and the rest are part time "¦ You mentioned earlier, and not to get too personal, that in your first marriage you were a workaholic and your wife's involved in the business, you're running the pastry today, are you managing to get a bit of a work/life balance or is it still work/work/work? No it's shocking at the moment. A year ago it wasn't too bad but it's the same for any restaurant. What happens is you have a core of staff in a kitchen there was one guy with me three years, one guy with me two years, the pastry chef was a year, they all sort of left around about the same sort of time and it was just unfortunate and it all impacted on each other and most of them have been replaced but with people that are just coming up to speed. So it takes time to build that team again doesn't it? But without letting any standards drop and no lack of consistency because it's very, very important. How would you describe the food style here then? The food style here is very seasonal. You don't need an ology to read the menu, the menu is written in a style that"¦ I thought there was a little bit of humour in there as well at times, like "˜Bah-bah black sheep,'. Oh we do some really mad things. I like that. Food should be fun as well shouldn't it? It's like the dessert "˜Plate of chocolate loveliness,' it's like, "What do we call this?" it's like , "Well it's lovely isn't it," so we've got a plate of chocolate loveliness and we've had like the "˜Bah-bah black sheep,' it is a local black organic lamb. But you put a nice little sort of tongue in cheek bit at the beginning. We did another similar one on the board with local venison and we called it, "˜Oh Deer,' we do another one with kid goat called, "˜Just kidding around.' So I like to do things like that you know. Yeah like I said sometimes food's too pretentious and it's just nice to have a bit of humour. And honestly what you get on the plate is seriously important but for me our food it's Ronseal cooking, it does what it says on the tin and what it says on the menu is what you'll get but the way the menu's written as if I was describing a dish to you. I don't do ingredient, comma, ingredient, comma, ingredient, comma because for me that doesn't work, 'd like a little bit more information how my food's being cooked. Also the way we present the food is in a fashion so that a dish is put before you and it looks appealing on the eye which makes you salivate and it makes you want to eat the dish so isn't it better that halfway through eating that dish you're left with half of what originally arrived, it still retains that appeal on the eyes as opposed to having to deconstruct some chef's sort of construction, when the customer's like "What the fuck do I do with this," "What's in there? What's that smudge across there?" Each to their own, it's not a criticism it's just an observation, it's just another side of cooking. And the other thing is I truly believe that depending on where you go, If you choose to go to the Fat Duck you are going to the Fat Duck because it's a sensory experience on all levels, at the very, very highest level, it does not get any better than that as far as I'm concerned. You're going to eat stuff while listening to a iPod and smell something and"¦ And it can be a challenge but then you're going for that and you're paying for the labour that's gone into that etc. but on a day to day basis I don't really believe that for me anyway my life's a challenge on many levels for many reasons, kids and running the business and staff, I don't particularly want to go to a restaurant and be challenged by what I'm going to eat. I just don't. I'm going to London tomorrow and I'm going to meet up with Tim Hughes, who's the executive chef/director of Caprice Holdings, a very, very good friend, we've known each other over 20 years. Great opportunity you have a bit of lunch and he said he'd booked somewhere so I texted him today and he said, "I haven't booked anywhere we'll probably end up in one of my restaurants and I said, "Mate that suits me fine because I love"¦ Good old fashioned comfort food. "¦I love what they do but it's so of the moment it's like Sheekeys and Scotts are my absolute favourite and my other favourite restaurant is the River Café because it's so of the moment, seasonality and it's so simply produced but the highest quality with amazing skill in cooking. That to me is what it's about and that's what I'm about and so it's a reflection of what I do and I enjoy that. I prefer to eat food that's relative to what I'm doing because I can connect with it more. Okay every now and again you go and eat in a two star or three star or whatever but I always remember years ago, myself, Gordon, Marcus, we'd all meet after work and we'd go to the Caprice or we'd go to the Ivy, and we'd all have the sort of food that we really enjoyed. That's the sort of food I like to cook. Absolutely I know exactly what you mean. I love making my own sausage, I love making my own salt beef. I love the knowledge that goes in with that and doing a nice corned beef hash and we make all our own terrines and scotch eggs and pork pies"¦ But you have to have some of those dishes in because you're in a sort of pub environment so the scotch eggs, the pork pies and that type of thing do you think that's part of the pub environment or just because you do them? Well they can be I mean I remember I made what I thought was a really nice, amazing pork pie once and it was a struggle to sell it, they didn't know how nice it would be because they had this mental picture of a shop-bought pork pie. So sometimes you think, "˜Well just put your faith in us and have it.' We've done a couple of minced veal and foie gras scotch eggs and we do a little scotch egg, a rabbit scotch egg and a rabbit board and it's called, "˜Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit,' like Chas and Dave, and it's five different ways of doing rabbit and it's nice it's a little element of that but the best selling dish at the Hardwick over the six years has been rib eye steak and will always be. You take rib eye steak off a restaurant like this you're going to struggle. But that's very important to know what your customer wants and give your customer what they want Yeah you've got to really be aware of the customer demographic you're cooking for and also going back to the rib eye I'm comfortable with doing rib eye and we do a beautiful ham, egg and chips on the lunch menu, cook the ham, the triple cooked chips, the local organic egg and you couldn't improve on what it is it's not possible without baking it in hay!!! but are the grey pound really going to want to "¦no not really. So it's recognising that as well and just knowing when to stop as well. As Marco always said, "A great artist knows when to stop," and the rib eye we use, amazing beef, absolutely amazing beef, Portobello mushroom, the best vine plum tomatoes on the market , a beautiful béarnaise sauce. It's a simple dish but that's it, that's what it is. But listen to all the quality ingredients that you've just mentioned there, like you say what else does it need? Yeah as long as I'm comfortable with the fact that I can't improve on the quality of any of the individual items then I'm happy and that's fine for me. What are your aspirations for the business then? You've been here five years, you're working far too many hours, where do you want to be? What's success for you is it not working as many hours? Is it being financial secure? Is it a star? The thing for me is if I didn't have a family I'd quite easily work all day, every day, because I love it so much but I've got young children and they need a father figure. They need discipline and they need to be doing the nice things and they're at an age where they're very"¦ Impressionable aren't they? "¦impressionable yeah, very much so. So I have commitments and I need to look after those and be there for them. So doing that is one thing. I mean as the business goes it's just making the asset work for us and we invested a huge amount of money last year to add another eight rooms and a dining room and a kitchen and it all adds up it's a big"¦ And things like a kitchen there's no return on the investment but it's not seen as much as say rooms where you're selling a room straightaway and you can see the income. Exactly. So for us I mean the way I see Stephen Terry's life panning out I mean I'm 44 now I have this sort of quiet"¦the first thing I'd like to do is to do something in Cardiff. I would like to do something in Cardiff. Okay, any particular reason because it's a bigger demographic or"¦ It's a bigger demographic but it's what it's lacking, Cardiff is lacking a smart, busy restaurant, not a fine dining small restaurant but a smart busy restaurant that the same philosophy as The Hardwick, similar cooking but a menu that changes every eight weeks or so, I would be there once of twice a week, good staff and a great service and very accessible but I'm not tapping into the student market like Jamie's or anything like that. It lacks that sort of buzzy place. It used to have them but they're not there any more they've just gone by the wayside. I mean Cardiff has never had a Michelin star restaurant but I'm not looking to open one there. I'm quite happy for the Hardwick to get a star. Are you working towards that? And when I say working towards it I don't mean that every morning you come in and say, "We've got to get a star," but is that a goal? Well it's not a conscious goal I've got to be honest with you. It's never been a conscious goal. You know for the Canteen like Marco never cooked there and he wrote the menu and myself and my joint head chef, Tim Hughes, we executed it perfectly so it worked. And then when the Walnut Tree was a complete surprise, getting a star there. Why? Why? Because I just felt moving to the country was removing myself from that sort of whole starry thing and we did"¦ But surely it's about the food isn't it? We had a rib eye and chips there and we were doing lasagne and stuff like that. But then if you look at what Shaun's doing now it's completely anti-Michelin isn't it what he does? He does what he does doesn't he? Yeah. No I love what Shaun does and when we won the star at the Walnut Tree we had an inspection shortly afterwards and I said to the inspector, I remember his name, Mr Forsett and I said, "How can you compare the Walnut Tree to Pétrus?" St James at the time, I said, "They've got a trolley for this, a trolley for that etc." he said, "We're not, we're not comparing it at all, it's not a comparison, you are marked on your own merit." And I do think, you know, we were AA restaurant of the year for Wales last year. We were gastro pub of the year for national restaurant awards. Are you cooking as well as you were cooking at the Walnut Tree? Better. I mean there is that whole sort of thing of awarding complexity for complexity's sake with many guides but I do feel the guide's coming out next month and I don't think"¦ Two in a year from Michelin this year. Yeah I know and I don't think we're that far away from it. We've had a double inspection this year, to me it's a double-edged sword, yes it would be lovely to get a star because it's great for the boys, it's good for staff retention, it's great for getting stuff, which is a big, big thing for us out in the country, it's not like London, you've just got to deal with all the competition up there. Do your clients then potentially see you as becoming too expensive? I think the general public perception of a Michelin starred restaurant is pricey"¦ Poncey. "¦fussy food but they're not aware of places like St John, River Café, you've got the Stagg at Titley which was the first Michelin star pub an hour away and it's a fantastic restaurant. So I don't see there's a huge difference between what we do and the Walnut Tree do, I'm not comparing myself to Shaun Hill, not at all, he is an absolutely legendary chef but Shaun's 20 years older than me and I'd like to be where he is in 20 years time, maybe I will be but I think our consistency level"¦and the thing is I've only ever worked in pretty much, of all the restaurants I've worked in collectively it's 13 Michelin stars there. Really wow? As I say that's all I've ever done really so I work to those standards anyway, the quality of the produce, the way I drive the team. So like I say we had a double inspection and there was the head inspector, the lady, I don't know her name and another chap, they came and had dinner, both stayed and had cooked breakfast. I wasn't here first thing in the morning and they spoke to my head chef and gave him a good grilling and asked him lots of questions, am I here much, do I cook much? And he was like, "Yeah every day, he cooked your dinner last night." And Laura his fiancée Laura, who is a Spanish girl, who's fantastic she did breakfast. But we'll have to wait and see. Somebody said to me once what you get with Michelin is tick box diners in that you can be doing the same food for ever and a day and you suddenly get a star and then people go, "Oh look it's got a star we'll go there"¦" Oh absolutely yeah I think there's quite a lot of them. "¦just purely and simply because it's got a star. And I think one of the most important things to remember as a chef when you win a star and like I say I'm talking from experience having done it twice, is don't think"¦a lot of chefs think when they get a star, "˜Cor blimey we're a Michelin star restaurant now we've got to do this, we've got to do that," well actually no you got it for what you did. What you've been doing not what your going to do. So don't change it because it obviously works and it's the consistency that is utmost. So for me I believe a Michelin star represents consistency, quality and integrity really. It doesn't represent a style of cooking and a lot of people think it does because we all know there are Indian Chinese Japanese Michelin star restaurants. Absolutely. But the general old muckers out there they think it's all about frogs legs and foie gras don't they? Well on that note thank you very much you've answered everything in there and it's been great to have a chat with you, thank you very, very much indeed. Absolute pleasure thank you.
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 8th November 2011

Stephen Terry, The Hardwick, Abergavenny